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Woolf Laboratory

Boston Children's Hospital
3 Blackfan Circle
CLS 12260
Boston, MA 02115

FM Kirby Neurobiology Center

Our group is devoted to investigating the way in which the functional, chemical and structural plasticity of neurons contributes both to the normal function and the diseases of the nervous system. Major efforts are devoted to the study of pain, regeneration, inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases. Most of our work is concentrated on primary sensory and motor neurons and on the interaction of neurons and immune cells, using a multidisciplinary approach spanning stem cell, molecular and cell biology, electrophysiology, optogenetics, neuroanatomy, behavior and genome editing. We have established functional and comparative genomic strategies using expression profiling, bioinformatics and gain- and loss-of-function approaches to screen for and validate novel genes that contribute to neuronal plasticity and diverse disease phenotypes. We also use human stem cell derived neurons to explore physiology and pathophysiology. The group works closely with many academic groups and the pharmaceutical industry both to model disease and identify molecular targets for novel analgesics, axonal growth determinants, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agents.

Some of the major research interests of the group include:

  • Studying selective silencing of defined neuronal populations and its application for the treatment of pain, itch and inflammation.
  • Intracellular signal transduction cascades activated by peripheral inflammation and nerve injury.
  • Neuro-immune interactions.
  • Transcription factors as master regulators of pain, growth and survival programs.
  • Determining the contribution of intrinsic growth determinants in establishing regenerative capacity in the peripheral and central nervous system.
  • Establishing how sensory and motor neurons reprogrammed from patient fibroblasts or stem cells can be used to study pain and motor neuron disease and to screen for new treatments.
  • Identifying the role of tetrahydrobiopterin in pain and inflammation.
  • Mechanisms of peripheral neuropathy
  • Exploiting optogenetics, stem cell biology and genome editing to unravel the mechanisms of pain.
  • Identification of the processes responsible for accelerated in motor neurons death in patients with ALS


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